Hayward uses Upwords newsletter to challenge WEAR TV report on fish hatchery

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s thin skin was exposed again this week when he used his office’s digital newsletter to go after Jan. 2 report that aired on WEAR TV that questioned the fish hatchery the mayor’s wants to have built on the city’s waterfront next to the Community Maritime Park.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida want to develop the $19 million hatchery. Hayward will lease them land on Bruce Beach for a dollar a year.

In recent months, several locals have begun to question the project both from economic development and environmental perspectives. In 2013, Hayward pushed to renegotiate city contracts at Pitts Slip and Maritime stadium. However, he is ready to give away more waterfront property for only a $1 for a project that only creates about a dozen jobs.

One of the main functions of the facility will be to breed and release fish into the water. Environmentalist Christian Wagley has questioned the real benefit of such hatcheries to the our environment.

“A number of us have done research on fish hatcheries around the country,” Wagley told WEAR, “And it’s really a mixed record. They’ve had a lot of issues where the hatcheries haven’t worked out at all.”

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation investigated the fish hatcheries proposed for Louisiana and issued a resolution against them.

To date, Hayward has held no public forums on the project, even though he has been negotiating the land giveaway since 2011. As has often been the case with the first-term mayor  when his actions have been questioned, Hayward doubled down on the hatchery with his newsletter:

Last week, local TV station WEAR ran a story about the proposed Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center, which I’ve been working to bring to Pensacola’s Bruce Beach. I strongly support this project as a key component of our economic and environmental recovery from the damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In addition to the 12-15 permanent jobs created by this facility, an additional 20-30 construction jobs will be created, representing more than 1,900 worker-days. Once online, the facility is also expected to create new jobs in the commercial fishing and tourism industries.

WEAR’s story raised a number of questions about the effectiveness and impact of the proposed facility. Unfortunately, while my office shared all the facts with WEAR’s reporter, a lot of important information didn’t make it into the report. I know that it can be challenging to fit everything into a two-minute story, but it’s important to me that our citizens are well-informed, so I wanted to take a moment to share the facts with you directly.

While WEAR’s story focused on the fish hatchery component, there’s a lot more to this project. The proposed Hatchery and Enhancement Center would be a flagship facility which would help diversify our downtown waterfront, provide a destination for visitors, and further bolster Pensacola’s growing reputation as a center for research and innovation. An integrated coastal habitat plant production pond will provide source plants for ecosystem restoration. In partnership with the University of West Florida, the hatchery will conduct research to support the Gulf Coast ecosystem. Additionally, there will be educational opportunities provided for students throughout the region, and the center will also recognize the history and heritage of the Bruce Beach site.

Many of the technical and environmental questions that have been raised have been addressed in considerable detail in the NRDA draft restoration plan and environmental impact report, available online at the Gulf Spill Restoration Portal. As we examine the project, it’s also important to note that the Hatchery and Enhancement Center is one of more than 40 interconnected restoration projects currently being considered, including millions in funding for seagrass recovery, living shoreline projects, and more. Taken separately, none of these projects is a cure-all, but together, these projects will have a tremendous impact toward restoring the Gulf Coast ecosystem.

Those who know me know that I am a strong believer in doing due diligence. The multiple federal and state agencies which comprise the NRDA trustees – including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture – are thoroughly vetting each of these projects both separately and as a whole. Scientists and other experts are working to ensure that the projects selected represent our best opportunity to restore both our natural resources and coastal economy.

The mayor did not set up a public meeting for citizens to ask him about the hatchery. Instead he invited them to attend the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trustees meeting that will be held at 6 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the Pensacola Bay Center.

“I’m extremely excited about our proposed Hatchery and Enhancement Center and the tremendous benefits it will provide for Pensacola and the greater Gulf Coast community,” he said in the city newsletter. “I hope you share my excitement, and I’ll continue to update you on this project and others as we work together to take our community upward in 2014.”